Transverse Myelitis Association
Volume 4 Issue 1
March 2001

Page 21
TM Support Group of South Africa
Tanishka du Plessis
tanishkaduplessis[AT SIGN]


Molweni! Greetings from vibrant South Africa; the lively hub of Africa! My name is Tanishka du Plessis and I am a 26-year-old female residing in East London in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. I was diagnosed with TM in March 1999 after developing paralysis at T8 level within approximately ten hours of the onset of excruciating backache and stomach pains. My health has had its ups and downs during the past ten years. In 1991 I contracted Crohn's disease (an auto-immune disease affecting the bowel area) that led to a resection of my ascending colon, ileum and sections of small intestine. Last year, aside from being diagnosed with TM, I was also informed that I have anti-phoslipid syndrome and osteo-arthritis.

My story of recovery from TM is similar to that of many others: after 4 months of painful and intense therapy, I gained enough strength in my legs to start walking with the aid of crutches. Today I walk with the aid of just one crutch, as I tend to unexpectedly lose my balance and have difficulty walking on uneven surfaces. I do not have 'normal' feeling in my legs, have constant backache, poor bladder and bowel control and yet despite all this, I find so many reasons to smile and continue smiling. My life has been blessed over and over!

Anyone living with TM or any other debilitating illness, can give an account of the numerous physical and emotional challenges faced on a daily basis. There are often days when depression rears its ugly head, yet by the grace of G-d I sustain enough strength to prevent depression overshadowing my life. My friends have told me that they consider me to be so strong to have coped as well as I have. I truly believe that I am no stronger or wiser than anyone else I have met! I believe that inner strength is a unique human quality that can be found within everyone. It is a strength that forms part of the core of any human being and is a force that prevails, regardless of how bleak the situation might appear to be! I thank G-d that I am aware of the power of my inner strength and that I have been able to continue using it in a positive manner. TM is part of my life - there is no denying that! It affects my body and limits my physical ability, but in no way has it affected or limited my soul or spirit. It has, in fact, enriched my life, by allowing me to focus on the many positive aspects of my life. I have life, I have a good life - and I am eternally grateful for that!

My life experiences have helped to shape my positive mindset. I grew up in a childrens' home where I had to learn at an early age not only how to fend for myself, but also to understand that life is about facing challenges head-on and using such challenges in a positive manner. The reality of life is that every single one of us will have to face difficult challenges throughout our lives. The onus lies on us to realize and understand that every challenge can teach us a valuable lesson. I know that it is my attitude towards life that will ultimately determine the quality of my life.

Last year while in the hospital, I made the following four promises to myself: (a) that I would never give up during the physiotherapy sessions, (b) that I would go back to work if I recovered, (c) that I would get my driver's license and (d) that I would create awareness about TM and be there for others who had TM. I have by the grace of G-d managed to do the first three and am currently working on establishing a support group in South Africa. I contacted Sandy Siegel a couple of months ago with the idea of establishing a support group in SA. Through his encouragement and wonderful help, I have made contact with four dynamic fellow South Africans living with TM. The response that I have received from these South Africans has been incredibly encouraging. We are all so keen to kick-start a support group and be of help to others living with TM.

The South African support group will uphold the vision of TMA by providing support and creating awareness about TM and the TMA. There is a general consensus among us that there is definitely not enough information available about TM in South Africa.

To get the ball rolling, I wrote letters to relevant South African medical research units, neurologists and medical departments of universities to inform these stakeholders of TMA (especially regarding the symposium in Baltimore) and the aim of the South African support group. I was also requested by Sandy to assist in establishing a network between neurologists in SA and Dr. Kerr from the John Hopkins Centre. So far, the responses are slowly filtering in, but the important thing is that there are medical experts who have shown an interest in getting involved. There is still a great deal of work that lies ahead of the South African support group. I am trying to compile information about South Africans living with TM and am looking at ways to raise funds to send at least one representative to the symposium.

There is so much that we can do if we commit ourselves to becoming actively involved and stand together to make a concrete difference in someone else's life. My TM experience has made me aware of the many dilemmas faced by disabled people including problems gaining access to buildings. In South Africa, there are many hardworking organisations such as the Rehabilitation for Persons with Disabilities who have access committees to investigate and advise companies/organisations on how to make their buildings more accessible to disabled people. I recently started a petition against my employer (the provincial legislature) to make the building more accessible as there are three levels with no lift facility or wheelchair ramps. The current structure of the Legislature makes it impossible for the disabled (and extremely difficult for the elderly) to access the public galleries and venues for committee meetings. I circulated the petition to many organisations for the disabled and was completely overwhelmed with the support it received. Every single signature penned on the petition contributed to creating a sense of awareness and the Legislature has since started obtaining quotations to have the building revamped. So, every little bit we contribute, no matter how small, can be the catalyst for bringing about change.

We should never underestimate the power of love and the power of giving. During my illness, my fiancée and his family, my close friends and colleagues showered me with incredible support and love. It spurred me on to live and to strive to be of help to those in need. As the saying goes: "We are not here to see through each other, but to see each other through." So, lastly, watch out world… the South African support group is here to stay!

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